“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” Lao Tzu
This is part 1 of 2, you can find part 2, here.
This is a detailed article, please feel free to use the navigation bellow to quickly jump to the section you need:
-Some reasons why we might seek approval
-Feeling Good Enough
-Bragging and fishing for compliments
-Pretending to know
-Stop Little White Lies
-Comparing yourself to others
-Difficulty or inability to say “no”
-Being overly apologetic
-Getting upset too easily
-Waiting for permission and feedback
In this article I would like to explore why and how people seek validation from others. I want to find some concrete ways to stop approval seeking behaviors. It seems to me that there is a lack of practical advice out there. When trying to find ways to stop seeking approval, I found that a lot of the articles on the topic jut recommended not to do it, going on by stating all the bad things associated with seeking validation.
I think highlighting how and why we seek validation is a good start, and that will be the first part of this article, but we also need to establish methods or techniques that can liberate us from these negative behaviors. I’ll attempt to provide some practical advices in the second part of the article, advice that I try to apply in my life.
There is a variety of reasons why we try to seek external approval and validation from others. Often we seek from others what we lack in ourselves. We try to compensate or fill our needs with others.
Some Reasons Why We Might Seek Approval Could Be:
-Lack of self-confidence or self-worth
-Lack of competence
-Being in a vulnerable position, real or imagined
-For personal gains
-Because It feels goods, like a drug
Often, the main root from which validation seeking derives is not feeling good enough, or a lack of self worth. Feeling that we are good enough is an essential constituent of happiness. It is difficult to be happy and effective, if we do not believe in our own capacity and worth.
Feeling Good Enough
So, one of the essential constituent of self esteem, as well as a foundation for personal happiness and peace of mind is the intuitive knowledge that “I am good enough.”
You are good enough to deserve respect, love, attention, as well as opportunities to do, act and contribute in the world. It does not mean that you are above others but that you are their equals.
Sadly, so many do not believe themselves to be good enough, for a variety of reasons. This often leads to unhealthy behaviors, unnecessary struggles and suffering, and the constant pursuit of an elusive happiness through accomplishments and material possessions.
Not feeling good enough certainly was the case for me, and it still is sometimes. Subconsciously I came to believe that I wasn’t good enough for a variety of reason:
-My parentes separated when I was in early childhood. It is possible that I came to believe that it was my fault, and that I wasn’t good enough to ‘keep’ them together.
-I failed academically, growing up. Constant academic failures lead me to believe that I was a failure myself.
-I was socially awkward and didn’t have a lot of friends, or I was the butt of the joke. I needed to pretend and lie for people to accept me and let me be around them.
-My mother didsn’t feel good enough herself. She has attention seeking behaviors and looks for external validation all the time. Maybe I modeled this way of being.
-My mother also went through depression in my teenage years, and I didn’t manage to make her happy. I didn’t manage to ‘save’ my mother. I still often feel that I am not a good son.
This sense of lack of worth can have many sources and I encourage you to identify where it comes from for you, a few possibilities are:
-Modeling people we love
-Being badly treated, especially by close ones
-Being vulnerable in environments for extend periods of time, especially in childhood.
-Having people “better” that you all the time
-Being shut down, ridiculed, shamed
-Feeling that you are a bad person because of past and current actions and feelings.
-Misinterpreted traumatic events, break ups, getting fired, losses, accidents
If you believe that you seek validation from a lack of self-worth, you may find in beneficial to reflect on the cause. Maybe you can take a moment to sit down and write down some of the experience that make you behave this way.
My question to you is:
Have you truly been satisfied with yourself?
Have you ever told yourself that you were proud of yourself, that you were enough?
When did you start seeking validation and or feel down? Is it tied to a specific event?
When you don’t believe that you are good enough, you always feel undeserving. You believe that the good things that happen to you are the product of luck.
Besides, you can either feel defeated before you begin and never attempt anything, because you believe you are doomed to failure, or you always feel that you need to be better that you currently are, you are never happy with your performances.
From there, we often compensate and seek validation from others in various ways.
What are some signs of validation seeking behaviors?
Bragging And Fishing For Compliments:
We can use strategies in order to get appraisal from others, such as telling stories about ourselves, especially if we exaggerate the facts. We can try to point out to others our good deeds, and show off at every opportunities.
Seeking recognition is not always misplaced. If you have done some work that is of value to a community or organisation, it should be recognize, especially in a competitive environment. If credit is due, and others are playing around the bush to steal the fruits of your labor, it’s OK to do something about it.
On the other hand, we know perfectly well when we are just seeking validation because of insecurities. Try to be clear on which is which. If you find it difficult to be on the sideline of attention, you are probably being needy.
Some behavior that you display might be: humble bragging, peacocking, looking for compliment exchanges, taking excessive risks in front of others, trying to display skills and knowledge, and I am sure there are many others.
Try to identify what are the triggers to these behaviors. Maybe when you notice it, scan yourself. It is the first step to start getting some leverage and change.
Gossiping is a way to try to be interesting. By spinning stories, you capture the attention of your audience and get validated. By lessening the value and status of you target, you also get a sense of superiority and feel good about yourself.
The problem is that gossiping will never make you happy. Worse it makes others unhappy as well. A good rule of thumb is not to say things of people that you would’t say to their faces, or when the intention behind it is mean spirited.
Try to notice when you start gossiping and try to refrain from it. Maybe try to connect with the damage that it does to the person you are talking of. Try to imagine the worse scenario of the impact of your gossip, maybe ruining the person’s life and yours, connect with that in order to stop yourself.
Try to gossiping positively instead. If you like telling stories about people, why don’t you go out of you way to find out their talents and achievements, and share the positivity with others. You achieve the same benefits as negative gossiping while doing some good.
Try to develop a morale code of never gossiping and catch yourself when you do. Ask others if they think you are a gossiper, and ask them to tell you off when you start, in order to help you stop.
Some relationships are only based on gossiping and you don’t know any other way to communicate. Maybe it’s time to change friends, or say that you want to stop talking behind people’s back and talk about other topics instead.
Ultimately try to tune in with what it is you are trying to achieve by gossiping. If it is attention and validation? Does it hide a part of yourself that you find painful or a not so proud of? Is it out of jealousy? You need to figure that out for yourself.
Pretending To Know, Understand or Be In On It:
Knowledge, skill and competence are tied to acceptance and status, therefore it is understandable that people try to posture and infatuate what they actually know. However this does not only show lack of being genuine but is often counterproductive as well. The way to connect with people is through honesty and vulnerability. When you try to pretend you know more than you actually do, you might get found out and/or impede communication.
Be honest about what you dont know. If you feel that you need to appear smart and knowledgeable, you are probably feeling insecure in some ways.
Another more positive way to get attention and connect is to be curious and ask people questions about their knowledge.
In fact make a point of being super humble and open minded, try to dig for knowledge and let others speak. You often make a better impression by being engaging than by being a know it all anyways, and your increase your odds or learning something.
Besides, you might notice that intellectuals and expert in their fields are often humble and cautious about imposing truths, but remain open and exited about dialogues. When you speak, attempt to be less authoritative in your speech with word such as; I believe, to my knowledge, it might, my guess is, in my opinion, as far as I know, etc.
While pleasing people can be a good thing, it is not always so. In my opinion, it depends on the motive. There is a difference between niceness and kindness. If you find that you are trying to please people in order to be ‘nice’, try to refrain from it, you are trying to be appreciated.
There can be a variety of motives for being nice. It can comes out of fear of rejection or other various insecurities. Basically you believe that you have to be nice otherwise people won’t want to be with you. It can also come from calculated personal gains. You might want something out of someone and try to get it by being extra nice.
Either way, the problem with not being nice is not being genuine with yourself and others.
Being nice is perfectly commandable if it does not clash with you inner values, but it is not necessarily good in itself. If you witness someone being abused, if it is in your capacity, you should intervene proportionately, until the situation is stabilized, that often involves not being nice. Niceness often involve weakness when kindness doesn’t. You can be kind and firm, but not nice and firm.
People pleasing often take the forms of giving to many insincere compliments. It also manifest in a compulsion to try to make other people feel good regardless of the circumstances and your inner landscape. Usually, it is in the hope that the other will treat us kindly in return.
Unfortunately it is not always the case. In fact niceness is very much tied to validation and status. “Lower status” people will try to be nice to “superior status” entities. If you are trying to be nice to everybody you are displaying low status and self-worth, likely because it is what you are feeling inside.
Being nice is especially damaging and misguided when you are supporting others that do not support you, or worse try to harm you in return.
Such is the case in narcissistic personality/victim relationships. You can be kind, forgiving and compassionate but still fight for your rights and be oppositional against wrongdoing, as well as setting you boundaries.
“A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.” Vernon Howard
Stop Saying Little White Lies
What is the purpose of the little white lies? Most of the time, it is to avoid discomfort or to impress. It is easy to get away from small inconfortable situations by making little white lies. Sadly, I did that a lot, and I still do from time to time. However those little lies chip away at you.
Lille white lies can be accentuations. For exemple, when someone ask you how you are doing, you can exaggerate to appear great and that everything is awesome. The need to do that only reflects your vulnerability, and it will increase inside every time you lie. Try to be as honest as possible.
You can also exaggerate facts to make your point, or generalize by saying things like “everybody knows”, using cheap ways to win arguments means that you are not that confident in your ideas, and are more concerned about what others thinks of you than uncovering truth. This is another sign of insecurity.
Little white lies can be negations. Instead of apologizing, or in order to mask one of the mistake that you’ve made, you lie in order to cover up the truth. You can either have difficulty apologizing or you hate making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable however, and if you are always covering up, it is not a testimony of strength but vulnerability.
Exposing your mistakes, being open about them gives you an opportunity to reflect and improve, to enter open communication and connect in your relationship with honesty and vulnerability
“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.” Abraham Lincoln
Being non-polarizing means that you have a difficulty to be at odds with others, or be in an opposition. The thing is, you cannot agree with everybody, it even would be dangerous. Many ideas are horribles ideas, and you should’t agree or endorse them. Maybe you should even actively fight them, it’s OK to disagree.
Disagreement does not have to strain relationships either. If after a debate and clarification, if you still cannot find common ground, you can agree to disagree, and focus on other areas where you can relate, to base the relationship upon. Atheist and religious can be friends, so can socialist and capitalist, vegetarian and meat eaters, etc. You don’t polarise because you are afraid of disapproval. It often takes the form of not showing your true self, being a chameleon in different social situation, pretending to be someone that you’re not.
People will have different views than you and that’s fine. When it is the case, it is better to voice your opinion and the foundation for your opinion. When you hide your true opinion, not to ‘offend’ people, you are essentially being dishonest. You are being dishonest and afraid of rejection, ridicule, anger.
It shows that you are in fear and vulnerable to the other person’s reaction. This vulnerability shows that you are insecure, and people will tend to pick up on that and treat you accordingly. It also shows that you do not value your own opinion very much, and value the other person’s opinion more than you value yourself.
Remember that it is OK to disagree with others and that your are entitled to your own opinions. In fact people like individuals that are polarizing, because it shows a strong personality and a sense of self. Others will tend to respect you, even if they disagree.
Try do reflect on times when you held you true opinion to yourself. Why did you do it? How did you feel? Maybe you can plan ahead for similar situations and visualise how you will act differently. When the time comes, gather your courage and learn to speak up, a little at a time.
On the other hand, being polarizing does not mean being a jerk. You can be open minded about others point of view. Try to state you point of view clearly and why you came to this conclusion, maybe by using examples of experiences you’ve had, informations and facts you came across.
Try not to dismiss others people ideas, beliefs and values because they clash with your own. When you find something that offend you, that you find illogical or blatantly wrong, instead of jumping to the other’s throat, try to understand how they came to this view point. Before defending your idea and starting a argument, ask for clarification, ask the other party how they came to believe or think that.
If you find yourself very emotionally triggered by certain statements, it probably is because it ignite something withing yourself. Try to ask yourself what it is that annoy you so much, find out your blind spot, before returning to communication.
In order to communicate with others more deeply and be polarizing without being confrontational, you can check out Marshall Rosenberg work of non-violent communication.
Comparing Yourself To Others:
Comparing yourself to others is a natural behavior. We are social animals, and we make sense of standards through comparison. You cannot stop your brain from comparing, however the important aspect is the emotional impact of your comparison. Does comparing yourself to other affect you ego? How do you compare yourself with others? On what ground? How does it make you feel?
Often, when we compare ourselves with others we either feel lesser or feel superior than them. It is a testimony of insecurity and not feeling good enough, we compare because we seek reassurance or reinforcing our belief that we are a failure.
For me it was other guys physics. Every time I saw a fit dude, I was internally feeling insecure and jealous, because it reminded me of what I failed to achieved. I think you need to let yourself be happy instead for other people who have what you want. Maybe you can even seek advice and help from them. When we compliment others, they are often more than happy to give advice.
If you catch yourself comparing, ask yourself what emotions it sparks in you? Why are you doing it?
Nobody but you can be you. We all face different circumstances and comparing yourself inappropriately is meaningless. You are always better and worth of than some. Try to focus on improving and be better than yourself.
Remember, “Comparison is the thief of joy” Theodore Roosevelt
Difficulty or Inability To Say ‘No’:
We have limited time and ressources. Saying no is an essential part of life and personal management. Remember that saying no to something means saying yes to something else.
All effective people have learned to prioritize and chose the opportunities that they act on.
There might be different reasons why you have difficulty saying no, but it is often very related to validation:
You are afraid that the other person are going to take it badly, be angry or disappointed at you. In this form of emotional blackmail, you feel compelled to do others’ biding, in order to maintain a sense of peace, or the status quo. But the truth is, this peace only serves them, and you only refrain from saying no because you fear confrontation.
Worse, you might be tempted to say yes, and not follow through, which makes you not only dishonest, but unreliable as well. I use to do that a lot. I didn’t have the heart to ‘let people down’, so I would agree but then not follow up. It use to frustrate and annoy people, and for good reason.
Often you are afraid of letting people down because you feel vulnerable in this situation. You either feel that by disappointing the other party, the relationship will end, or there is going to be bad repercussions. This vulnerability often comes from a sense of lack of self-worth, again, you think that you are not good enough to be appreciated if you don’t serve others.
You might be in a position where vulnerability is real, in a job or an abusing relationship. If you are in such a relationship, you might not be able to stand up for yourself strait away, but it is a good idea to start planning on getting out of it. That means trying to learn and set up independence or seeking help.
Lack of financial and material security, as well as emotional dependencies, substance abuse and addictions can leave you in such a state of dependent vulnerability. If you find yourself in a situation you feel you cannot escape by yourself, seek help.
Another reason you might not say no is because you are not clear on what you want, your values, priorities and objectives.
Because you are not clear on what you want and what you values are, you end up chasing too many things at once and rally with other peoples priorities. You become the instrument of others and fulfill their life’s mission instead of fulfilling your own. Its fine to serve others, but you have to know why.
Ultimately, serving others have to be self-serving as well. Don’t buy into sacrifices. Even sacrifices are self-serving to some extent. You can serve and rally with others when you learn, love, grow, and get fulfillment out of it. If it is forced, you feel trapped, obliged, etc, you are desperate or in need and it does not come from the right place.
Self-victimisation is a validation seeking behavior. By reinforcing self-pity, putting an emphasis on how everything is horrible and difficult you achieve two things:
-you get the attention from others.
-you fail to take any responsibility for your current outcomes.
With the exception of children you cannot be 100% a victim. I mean by that, that even though you are being abused, you can chose to stand up and fight, even if you are going to loose.
There is a tacit agreement when you are a victim. You chose the best of two bad options, which is to surrender instead of fight in order to survive.
The problem with being trapped into “victimhood” is that it prevents responsibility and creativity in order to escape the situation. In fact the more responsibility you take the more ressources you can apply to your problems. I am not minimizing the fact that their are victims. Victimisation is a tragedy, remember that it is always a matter of degree.
More often than not, we don’t have it as bad as we think we do. We can overplay victimization in order to accentuate the feeling that we are worse off than others in order to get sympathy. In some sad interactions, you can even find a ‘who’s got it the worse’ competition, wearing the pain and bad experiences as a badge of honor.
If you find yourself playing the victim, try to identify the choices that lead you to this situation. What are the steps you can take now to change your situation? If nothing comes to mind, visualize your desired outcome, and let you mind think creatively or in images. Maybe ask for help from others, either to escape abuse or to be accountable to change and be responsable.
Being Overly Apologetic
Do you find yourself apologizing often? Maybe to much? We all make mistakes, it is unlikely that you makes that much more that others. If you find the constant need to apologize it is because you feel you are at fault. Try to find out why that is?
Maybe you find yourself responsible for everything and tend to blame yourself easily. If there is merit in endorsing responsibility, there are things you can’t change.
If you apologize when you have done nothing wrong maybe it is a sign of low self-worth.
Try to notice when you apologies, how often and in what circumstances? Try to notice why you apologies? how you feel at that moment? Do you feel vulnerable. Is apologizing a way not to confront the real problem. Sometimes apologies are even insincere, watch out for the “sorry, but..”
Do you feel guilty or at fault? Are you truly at fault? Was it your direct responsibility, or you could have done something if only you thought of it or took initiative? The former is much more legitimate than the later.
You do need to make amends when you screw up, but beating yourself up doesn’t help. In fact it often make it harder to repair the damage done.
Getting Upset Too Easily, Throwing Tantrums:
Getting upset is a natural phenomenon and is useful information that we should not disregard sometimes. It is okay to be upset when human rights are not uphold, when atrocities are committed, and when ‘positive values’ are insulted. However, getting upset for trivial things is very frequents, and it tells more about the person being upset, that the one that is upsetting.
If you find yourself being upset often, maybe you should try to dig in the reasons why this is so.
Being upset as multiple purposes, to appear dangerous and high status so that others back of and leave us alone, to gather attentions to ourselves, and to mask more painful emotions.
Displaying overly emotional behaviors to get attention can take the form of explosive anger, being sulky, offended, insulted, grumpy unnecessarily and for extended periods of time. As well as displaying victimisation and excessive sadness in a manipulative manner. There is always something you try to achieve consciously or unconsciously with these behaviors, secondary gains if you will.
For example, I sometimes make a tantrum when I loose or do not perform well at sport or various games. I let my competitiveness overtake me, but more importantly, my outburst achieve two things. I mask my true pain of feeling like a failure and not being good enough to myself. I also receive indirect attention from others and I am still validated, something that I had hoped to achieve by winning instead.
What are some behaviors that you display? Maybe you stay sulky a little to long after an argument to get extra attention and apologies, maybe you show extra disdain and skepticism when others present you their ideas so that you get more respect. Most of the time it resolves around playing a game for attention. Try to catch yourself with those behaviors and overtime eliminate them entirely.
Learning to accept rejection and criticism is another important thing. If sometimes criticisms are misguided, not all of them are pernicious. Regardless of the nature or the intention of the criticism, unless it is a blatant insult, there is no need to be upset. When criticized or rejected try to identify the motives instead of letting your emotion flare. Is the other person trying to help me or damage me?
Waiting For Permission And Feedback:
Waiting for permission from others is a testimony that we are shackled by the approval of others. We are not our own source. The only reason you wait for permission is because you want to know in advance how your actions are going to be received, and not take any risks. This shows insecurity.
We often want cues and opportunities to present themselves to us before we start doing, but the truth is we wait and delay out of fear. Sometimes in order to get involved, we don’t need to ask, we can just show some backbone, start doing, be curious, get involved.
Are there things or situations in your life where you are waiting for permission? Unless you have a very explicit reason not do, stop waiting, start doing now. You can even stop reading that article, I won’t be offended.
A similar validation seeking behavior is waiting for feedback. We are disappointed if it does not come or if is negative. When we wait for feedback, it is a sign that we wait for other to notice us.
The fact is that you are entitled to ask for feedback. Try to seek feedback actively by asking for others opinion if you want it. If you’ve done something for others and they do not show appreciation, it’s OK to voice your concern, and they you’d like to be thanked or rewarded for your efforts. This shows that you have self-worth and are aware of what you are entitled to.
You can also give yourself feedback. Often we are competent enough to reflect on how effective we were and the mistakes that we did. Pen and paper is often all we need for proper feedback and moving forward.
Asking for permission and feedback shows that you consider yourself to be low status. It means other people are more important that you and get to decide what you do. While it can make sense in your work, or if you are under tutelage, it should not be the case in your own life, and when making your own decisions. Besides, you should try to be as independent and proactive as you can even in your work. People who takes initiative and show confidence are often rewarded.
For some people, opposition and criticisms are a form of validation, because it is a form of attention. With this mindset, ‘it is better to be hated than to be ignored’. It is true in some ways that by giving you attention, ‘haters’ validate in some ways. It’s easy however to manufacture rebellion. It is easy not to conform to something by conforming to something else. If you do find yourself marginalized ask yourself the right questions: Am I in this situation because of my core values? Or do I just want to be in opposition? Am I trying to find myself?
Paradoxically, non-conformity can be the result of both, freedom from validation with a strong sense of self and values, or the need to be validated by being confrontational.
Try to explore honestly what are the motives behind your behaviors. If you recognize yourself in this category and your reading this article, there might be a chance that your just longing for attention. Maybe you could bypass that need altogether, or seek it in a more constructive way.
“The most splendid achievement of all is the constant striving to surpass yourself and to be worthy of your own approval.” Denis Waitley
Now that we have established ways that we seek validation from others, I will try in part 2, to give advice and lay out steps in order to progressively stop doing it.
Thanks for reading this article,
I wish you all the best,